Friday, February 22, 2013

Blog Hiatus

Taking a bit of a blog hiatus and will tell you all about it in ten days.  :)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Singing Grace

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

When we've been here ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.

--John Newton, "Amazing Grace"

I'm not sure I had ever sung all the verses of "Amazing Grace" before today.  My new hospice patient, who is 95+, was sad and lonely, and so the visiting chaplain and I began to sing.  When we finished, there were tears in our patient's eyes and later she said she'd like more singing.  Thankfully, I'd recently reviewed our family canon so I could come up with some songs--"You are My Sunshine," "Water is Wide."  I'll be even more prepared next time.

Most of the books I've read about hospice talk about how dying is so similar a state to babyhood, in that you are often completely dependent on your caregivers for food, hygiene, comfort, and relatively oblivious to the world beyond your immediate space (i.e. world events and such); many also want company, presence, reassurance, a human voice.  But unlike babies who are touched and talked to, elderly terminally-ill patients are often not coddled in this way. Singing today reminded me of singing to Sis and Bud when they were little; the songs were even the same.  I look forward to going back to visit my patient again soon.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


We had a hospice in-service today on treating terminally-ill patients with gentle touch (yes, massage, but as non-certified practitioners, we can't use that word apparently; I will here, though).  Particularly for elderly and terminally-ill patients, touch is so important because they tend to be untouched except in medical or practical ways, rarely personally or intimately.  We're encouraged to offer gentle touch and try simple techniques with our patients.  But there are many caveats regarding fragile skin, blood clots, lymphedema, and such, so that as a volunteer, I focused on hands.

After lotioning my own hands with Eucerin (something non-greasy and non-irritating with little or no scent), I cradled my partner's right hand in my left and then stroked her hand with my right, using mostly the heel of my hand as it's the softest part. It's rather like kneading bread, squeeze and press and stroke, using both the upper and lower hand, focusing not so much on the skin but on the contours of flesh and bone.  After a goodly time, I turned her hand over and did the palms, as well as fingers and thumbs.  And there was more pressure than I would have expected, though we were encouraged to ask what felt right.  When it was my turn to receive a massage, I noticed right away that, while the focus was on my hand, my entire body relaxed in just a few minutes.  Under different circumstances, I probably could've fallen asleep!

The demonstration continued--on foot rubs, supporting and massaging shoulders (and then down the arms), cupping the occiput (base of the skull) and rubbing the neck, back rubs--with a focus on both the practitioner and recipient feeling comfortable and engaged (there was focus on using whole body movements to avoid stress and strain on the back, arms, and shoulders.)  Repeatedly, our teacher stressed that gentle touch is as much a gift to the practitioner as the recipient.

When the babes were very young, we took an infant massage class at the hospital and then tried it a few times at home, but neither kiddo took to it.  I hope, with a little practice, I'll be able to use this new technique more successfully with my hospice patients.  Tomorrow, I meet my new patient, a 95+ year-old woman.  I'll have to remember to take some hand lotion!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Singing Down Memory Lane

It all started when Mama watched Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary at Royal Albert Hall  when she was sick.  Then we watched it together.  And then Bud came in during the Masquerade scene and loved the costumes and the song.  He begged us to let him watch.  So, the next day, we all watched all of the first act and some of the second.  The kids were entranced and sang snatches of the songs all the next day until we finished the show.

Right now, they are watching it again.

They've found the soundtrack on our iPod.  They've dressed their critters up as various characters and done a puppet show with them.  Then they acted it out themselves, though they want the full soundtrack with dialogue!  Earlier this morning, I was Christine to Bud's Phantom and we sang "Phantom of the Opera" together.

For me, it's quite a walk down memory lane.  I was obsessed with the musical in high school, just as Mama was obsessed with Les Mis.  I listened to it, read the novel, read about the production, and longed to see it.  And then in 1990, on my way to Tunisia for a summer of archaeological digging, Gommie and I traveled via London and saw the musical on our last night there!  We were doubly glad to be there because we'd had a stomach virus most of the time we'd been in England.  It was phenomenal--not just the show, which exceeded my every expectation, but the beautiful old theater where they even sold ice cream in the (very narrow) seats at intermission!  I sang the songs the rest of the summer.  A few years later, I saw it again in NYC.  (See, they come by obsessive tendencies honestly!)

But I haven't really paid it much mind since the late 1990s.  I really didn't like the movie.  At all.  And since it wasn't Mama's favorite, we rarely listen to it.  I think for awhile it was a bit baroque for my taste.  Now, I'm as excited as the kids to revisit it.  And I still know every lyric of every song!  I especially like the 25th Anniversary celebration at the end, with some of the original Phantoms and also Christine, though Michael Crawford didn't sing (Colm Wilkinson, of Les Mis fame did, though, which sounded strange to Mama) and Sarah Brightman seemed aged compared to the young ingenue Sierra Boggess, who is actually in the role here in NYC for the next couple of months.

I'm tempted to take them to see Phantom of the Opera soon.  Lion King first, though, and then Les Mis when they are much older.  And later still, La Boheme since they're interested in opera; then Rent!  But, yes, Phantom of the Opera.

Until then, they're already planning to be the Phantom and Christine for Halloween!  Think they sell child-sized white half-masks?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Duck, Duck Dynasty

"Da gator bit da pirogue!"*

I have a new favorite show:  "Duck Dynasty," a reality show that chronicles the eccentric back-swamp antics of a clan of odd but now wealthy duck-call manufacturers, aka Duck Commander, in West Monroe, Louisiana.

I'm not even sure how to describe it to you, except perhaps in the vignettes that build to make the show:  the men of the clan declaring war on beavers, whose lodge they attack with homemade Napalm manufactured by quirky Uncle Si and then flame throwers; the matriarch of the clan, Kay, wiggling a skinned cooked squirrel from her much-praised squirrels and dumplings and then eating the brains, declaring "squirrel brains make you smart;" the company employees led by owner Willie's brother Jase building a "redneck water park" in a local pond when they were supposed to be making duck calls; a turkey cook-off between men and women that started with a turkey hunt filled with advice about courting women; Willie pimping out a riding-lawn mower to race a local rival and then being too scared to go fast--but still winning when the other guy's mower breaks!

And of course there's that moment when Willie goes to fetch a boat at his parents' house only to find a gator in the shed, which sends him off squealing until he leads it away with a raw chicken on a string, all while his mom Kay is stirring a vat of jambalaya outside with a paddle.

Perhaps something gets lost in the translation.

(You can read a more thorough description at the NYTimes here.)

I can't put my finger on why I enjoy it.  It's not just because their world is both so foreign and familiar--foreign to both my suburban Houston childhood and current Connecticut life but also familiar because of the stories friends and relatives have told over the years--Dad's stories about experiences in East Texas, uncles and cousins on our porch at the bay spinning yarns not unlike Willie's.  And of course I did grow up with a dad and relatives who hunted, fished, and wore camo.  In fact, my dad's camouflaged boat has a much more sophisticated pattern than the Duck Commander's!  Let's say the Roberston clan of the show is only a few degrees of separation from people I know.  (Which I think is what bothered my folks on first watching; "too close to home," they said.)

But more than that, the show isn't mean or degrading.  The people are honest and loving, hard-working and good natured.  They don't demean each other or degrade themselves; and sometimes you just know they are so much more clever than they appear--I mean, they have a multi-million dollar business and a hit tv show.  It's like a modern day Waltons, with each episode ending around a long table, laden with food, as the patriarch Phil, the Duck Commander, says grace and Willie does a voiceover about neighbors or family or faults.  It's that kind of feel good show.

And if you want that recipe for squirrel stew, it's on their website.

*Translation:  "The alligator bit the boat."

A Happy Hearts Day

From my box of chocolates picked out by Sis because it's one of her favorite phrases

We had a delightful, if low-key, Valentine's Day.  There were cards--penguin for Bud, "Thumb Bunny" for Sis, an otter for me, cat, hedgehog, and panda for Mama--and little tokens of affection--a book of hearts, Pokemon cards, and a box of chocolates.  They finished taping the candy to their class valentines on the off chance they got to go to school today, which they did excitedly.  We have more cards at home--for grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins--belated but well-intentioned.  Besides, my grandmother would say that the best holidays are the ones you stretch out.

Two More

Snow sculptures extraordinaire (modeled on their critters, which they propped as models in the front porch window):

Sis's sculpture of Amy the Bunny
Bud's sculpture of Mr. Big

Goodbye, Blizzard!

The sun is out; the snow is diminishing.  And most of all, the kids are back in school.  For me, the blizzard is over, even if a lot of snow lingers, with more expected tomorrow (2-4"  I'll believe it when I see it.)

So, I leave you with this snow sculpture which the kids excitedly made in a snow bank created by the plows.  They were thrilled to know that Miss K and her daughter M noticed it and even identified it without being told.  Can you?

It's a Giraffe!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Hearts Day!

Heart Art and Apparel | Heart Prints and Posters

The link is to a great blog of "found" hearts by the author of the book, See a Heart, Share a Heart, that I gave Mama today,  regardless of the commercial title that comes up when I link automatically.   I imagine I'll start looking for and seeing hearts in odd places.


At home in bed mostly.  Kids are dear.  Only online as headache allows.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fourth's a Charm

After a night of chills, headache, and fever, I went to the clinic this morning.  I have the flu.  And she says it's going to get worse before it gets better.  So much for my flu shot back in October.   Heading home to bed....and poor Mama isn't near recovered yet.  The kids have the run of the house (but, having had it themselves, they are sympathetic and brought me peanut butter toast in bed and a drink and then juggled to entertain me.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Blizzard: Our First Outing

For the first time since Thursday, we were able to get out of our house, off our street, and into the great, wider world.

Which meant a trip to the store!

Actually, the very first trip this morning was to the clinic because Mama was on her fourth day of feeling rather miserable--headache, congestion, and, yesterday, a fever.  Yes, she officially has Flu B.

So, when she returned, I went with a neighbor, Miss K, and the kids to the store to fill her prescriptions, as well as pick up some more food, a couple of household items (I don't want to risk running out of toilet paper!), and a few distractions.  This was wonderful in several ways:  Mama got to rest; I didn't have to drive on the single lane snowy roads; and Miss K, whose road was still not plowed, got to get out to the store, too.  And the kids got new Legos! We even had lunch out, a nice treat for me especially after cooking the last 13 straight meals.  How often had I ever actually prepared breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday for 4 1/2 days?!?  No sack lunches, no take-out, no skipping breakfast.  Again, I wouldn't have made a great pioneer woman (in the 19th century or even here in the 21st.)

Better yet, while we were out, the town plowed Miss K's road!

But the town is still a mess and school has been canceled again tomorrow.  The friendly plow driver told us that it will probably be Friday before we have school, so that crews can finish all the streets on Wednesday and then clear the schools on Thursday.  I'll believe it when I see it.  But I'm in no rush.  We're having a pretty good time.

The only down side is the real vitriol that is developing in town about the inefficiency in clearing the roads (and ill-informed statements by the mayor that town is clear) and the bad timing of winter break next week (which cannot be switched with snow days this week for a variety of logistical reasons).  There is a serious lack of patience and compassion, a real lack of communication and information, and a plethora of name-calling and mud-slinging.  People desperately don't like to lose control in their lives and there is nothing like an historic blizzard and 36" of snow to take away some of your power; it's getting ugly.  I'm trying to take things as they come, even if it means Sis and Bud won't go to school three weeks straight, excluding the weeks they both missed for the flu.

I type a good game, but it was definitely nice to get out of the house and have another adult lead the kids around the store while I did my shopping.  I was getting a mite snippish myself.  But an afternoon of quiet Lego building and reading has done wonders and I'm ready to face the days off this week and next.

And the snow is still pretty.  And pretty amazing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Blizzard: Snow Fog

Blizzard: More Snow Fog

Blizzard: We have Street!

A bulldozer came though this morning and cleared a single, messy path down our street (but not any of its offshoots), making very quick work of it and disappearing again.  Then Mama spent more than an hour in the driving rain clearing the pile at the end of the driveway.  All of which is to say we are connected to the outside world again!  We don't plan on going out at all--it's a narrow and not very clean path--but it's good to know an ambulance or firetruck could get through.  No doubt the plows will be back in a few days to widen the road and clear out the side streets, which means more snow blowing for Mama.  Best snow blower ever!

Otherwise, with all the rain, the snow is making snow fog and it's getting increasingly blurry outside.  It's too messy to play so we're inside with games, puzzles, crocheting, tv, and still enough food so that we don't have to venture out.  All in all, doing very well.  But then, after months (almost years) housebound, I don't get cabin fever as quickly as others.

The "cleared" road.

Our driveway connected to the outside world!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Blizzard: Snow Rainbow!!

Directly overhead right now!

Blizzard: Pathways

Blessed are the pathmakers

Neighborhood lore has it that the above pathway to the main street in town was made late last night by a man with a flight to Costa Rica today!  It has been quite a lifeline.  One neighbor made it to a convenience store and could report that no roads were plowed between here and there.  Another neighbor came home this afternoon, trudging up the path, after being stuck at work for three days.  And now there are several arteries joining it, from around the corner and up the street plus all the little avenues connecting people's driveways to it.  I dug our connection myself--the snow is light and the kids had tromped a path already; then our neighbor blew it wider and smoother for me.  Thus I spent all morning talking to friends and neighbors who, glad to get out of the house and into the sunshine, were walking back and forth on our little icy highway.  Sure, a few people forsook the path, having their own snowshoes and cross country skies, but most of us stuck to the path and congregated at intersections to chat and compare notes--how long would school be closed (two more days at least), was it true that town was out of diesel for the plows (apparently a FB rumor), how close was the nearest plowed street, and did the convenience store still have milk and eggs (no but they have Funyons!).  We even used the pathway to exchange milk, eggs, and onions!

The kids played nearby, digging ice caves in the snow (the man down the street had been an Army ranger and advised them on how to build an ice cave, leaving a lot of room at the top because this is crumbly snow) and sledding down our embankment into our driveway.  They later played chase and threw snowballs with friends through the pathways.  Now they've headed up the street via the path all the way to their babysitters to sled so more and maybe play Minecraft.  No worries about cars . . . or snow plows!  And it is so quiet with no traffic anywhere.  Just the sound of neighbors chatting up and down the snow paths.  

I know that the plows will come eventually, or more precisely the frontloaders, and will obliterate our little lifeline.  Sure, I'll be glad to know we can be reached by emergency vehicles and be able to get to stores and school eventually.  But for now, I like the snowy labyrinth of connections our neighbors have built.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Blizzard: Day is Done

We came inside around 3:30 ish, after Mama cleared most of the driveway, some of the cars, and a bit of the walk to the mailbox, but none of the long sidewalk.  The kids had crawled on cars, dug tunnels in snow banks, and explored the backyard, getting stuck trying to circle the house.  Hot chocolate, deep dish oatmeal cookies, and King Cake warmed us all back up.  I napped while the kids and Mama had a Poke-marathon upstairs.  They're finishing up and I'm making cornbread to go with leftover vegetable-tortellini soup.

Outside, the wind is bitter and beginning to howl; the trees have been defrocked of their snow.  It was already getting chilly at 3:30, as the shadows grew longer and the sun began to dip.  Where the driveway was cleared is dry, but snow surrounds it high on four sides--highest on the street end where no plow even thought of coming through.  Public Works, while working around the clock, says it could be 24-48 more hours.  I'm going to say Tuesday or Wednesday before school opens, because, in addition to clearing roads and sidewalks and parking lots, they'll have to think of clearing 3' of snow off all of those flat school roofs.  And I think it's supposed to rain Monday, so we'll raise things up in our basement while also clearing channels outside for the water to flow through the snow.  Heaven help us if it freezes after that.

All in all it was a good but strange day.  Time had almost no meaning.  I think we ate lunch twice!  I followed updates of friends on FB, with stories, pictures, and information about town plows; all of us so isolated and yet so very connected in this modern world.  I couldn't have predicted, waking up at 6 a.m. and being unable to see out our second-story bedroom windows that Mama could've gotten us out the door much less all over the driveway by late afternoon.  I admit to a bit of a panic attack seeing all that snow piled up and feeling stuck, stuck, stuck. I remember stories of Pa Ingalls needing to tethering himself to the house with a rope to find the barn safely; that's if he could even open the door!  I know that even houses with fireplaces (if you could find the wood in the snow!) were barely above freezing because of the poor heat conservation.  No wonder those women on the prairie went crazy.   I practically danced on the black asphalt as it was revealed!  I'm not as hardy as a pioneer, or most New Englanders.  But still I love the snow and am rather excited to be living through an historic blizzard.  And I thought the 1996 one in NYC was big!  (Well, it was--5th Avenue devoid of cars, listening to thundersnow while staying with Gommie and Aunt Banana at the Waldor-Astoria, trekking through drifts to get to my apartment on W. 44th St.)  Our town is right up there with the 38" record accumulation of the storm so far.  And what do inches matter when you measure drifts in feet?

Church is cancelled tomorrow; we couldn't get out even if it weren't.  We were supposed to go to NYC today to celebrate Chinese New Year with Ma, Gong, and Goo, who were thankfully spared the brunt of this after the devastation they suffered three months or so ago with Hurricane Sandy.  I doubt we'll be able to go tomorrow, which is sad especially for Mama and her folks.  The kids will be happy to celebrate whenever we do.

And tomorrow there will still be tons, quite literally, of snow to play in.

Blizzard: We Have Driveway

Can you spot not one but two kids?

Blizzard: Even More Pictures

The basement window.
Their swing seats are covered.
The other basement window.
For you, Pop and Gommie--out the side door.
On the deck.

Blizzard: More Pictures

Where's Sis?!?

Our side door.
Our side window.
Mama's car is in there somewhere.
Sis sitting on top of our metal bench.
Sis at the mailbox.  But no mail today.  So, that's our street behind her.
It's beginning to feel a lot like . . . . oops, no.
Can you see Sis on top of my  car?

Blizzard: Yay!

LOVE the snow blower!  And the machine is great, too.

Blizzard: A Start

We got the porch door open.

Blizzard: The Car

Blizzard: Out Back

Not our highest drift--and it's as tall as the kids--but the easiest to photograph.  Can't open any doors--and Mama cleared them last night--but the heat is on.  In fact, we're very insulated with the drifts! 

Blizzard: Snowed In

Literally, it's waist high--reports say it's near 38" in the area.   These are our windows and doors.   It's like Little House on the Prairie.

Our metal bench is in there somewhere.
Can you see where the street is?  Nope.
Out our bedroom window, with snow on the porch roof.
Out the back deck--the drift is as tall as Bud and Sis.
This is the view of the driveway.  The drift , from the ground, is about as tall as I am  (and I'm 5 ' 8" ish.)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Blizzard: The Sky is Falling

We are watching the weather, not on tv, but outside our window.  It is illuminated by the streetlight on the edge of our yard.  We cannot see the houses across the street, not even their mailboxes.  A few times we have been unable to see the streetlight's glow or even the branches of the tree right outside our window.

Unaccountably, I'm thinking of sand, of deserts during sandstorms, or of the stream of sand in an hourglass, or of sediment swirling in water.  Or of black clouds of swarming bees.  Or locusts.  Or dark sooty smoke from a big fire.  The snow is black, not white, in this light. The air is solid.  The sky's ceiling is right above our streetlamp.  It is claustrophobic.  And it is all yellow, the hue cast by the electric light against the surrounding snow.  This is not pretty, majestic gentle snowglobe snow but almost a living, breathing, powerful and possibly destructive entity.  The way it moves, up and down, sideways, and back upon itself which such silent force is serpentine. Watching it almost gives me vertigo, like an IMAX moving flying around.  Oddly, we can't hear the wind.  And no snow is hitting our room because we face south and the wind is from the north.  It's eerie.

And beautiful.  But not in a peaceful way.  Awesome, as in inspiring awe.  Terrific (well, not quite yet creating terror).  To use an art history term from Romanticism, it truly is Sublime.

Blizzard: 10 Inches

We've got 10".  Mama just measured.  And 12 hours more to go.

Blizzard: First Pass

With kids in bed and storm winds picking up (no thunder snow yet, even though we're in the dense purple bands on the radar), Mama has joined several of our neighbors in pulling out the snow blowers and taking a first pass at the driveway.  Thankfully, we have a new, powerful, self-propelled, tall blower that is eating through the 1' drifts in the driveway with ease.  And while we know it will accumulate overnight, it's important to get it started in case we got so much that our blower would have trouble clearing it tomorrow.  That would be no fun.

Oh, hell, the lights just blinked.  Please, oh please, don't let the power, or the heat, go out.  Let's just hope that was something else.  But considering the heavy, wet snow and the winds, I know many of my fellow Nutmeggers and New Englanders will be without power after this.  Selfishly, I just don't want to be one of them.

Blizzard: Blue Out!

We can't see to the end of the cul-de-sac, nor the fence of the neighbor a couple of yards down.  The Blowing snow has created a blue light, rendering the entire outdoors in a bluish grisaille--shades of whites, blacks, and light blue.  It's beautiful.

Blizzard: Darkening Skies

The sky is a darker gray; the snow is coming in sheets. The tree limbs are thickly covered and reaching for the ground. Visibility is decreasing.  It definitely feels like the storm is picking up intensity.

But we are still cozy inside.  Sis and I made a very decadent dessert, Deep Dish Oatmeal Chocolate Cookie Bars--with 2 cups of brown sugar, 2+ sticks of butter, and a whole can of sweetened condensed milk!  While they cooled--usually we would eat them straightaway, but the recipe warned that the filling would ooze--we all watched some of Fantasia, with the Nutcracker Suite, the Sorcerer's Apprentice, the dying dinosaurs.  And I fell sound asleep.

Now we're downstairs, making vegetable soup (and later cornbread) and working on the puzzle.  And watching the snow that still falls.  It never changed to rain.  It's been snowing some 9 hours straight now.  And the most is yet to come!

Deep Dish Oatmeal Chocolate Cookie Bars
We thought there was too much chocolate filling, so below I have halved the recipe from the original.

2 sticks butter
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup milk
3 cups oatmeal

Mix the butter, eggs and brown sugar.  Add vanilla and milk.  Slowly incorporate the rest of the dry ingredients.  Mix well.  I prefer using a stand mixer since it's quite thick.

In a saucepan over medium heat melt together:

1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (typically one bag)

Then, spread 3/4 of the cookie mixture on the bottom of a greased 9x13 pan, pour chocolate mixture, then spread rest of cookie mixture on tops in spoonfuls (won't cover completely-but will leave cool designs.  Next time, we might do a 1/2 and 1/2 split of cookie batter). The top can tend to get done before it's completely cooked, so you can put aluminum foil over it for the last ten or so if it looks like it's browning too much. Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees (it took ours closer to 40 minutes and a teeny bit of the middle still isn't totally cooked). Let cool, otherwise it won't set up and will just run when you cut into it.

Blizzard: A Few Photos Midday

Note the Scottish flag blowing in the wind.

Blizzard: Still Snowing

It's been snowing since I posted this morning, leaving about 2" plus behind, enough to level the Belgian block lining the driveway.  I hadn't expected this much snow until tonight and the rain mentioned in the forecast hasn't materialized, but it's only 1 p.m. so there is time for all of that.

It's beautiful outside and cozy inside.  There's a nice blanket of white on everything, which our dear backyard squirrel is surveying from his or her own comfy home in the knot of our big tree; Mama took a picture with her special camera which I might manage to download someday.  The kids are doing a 1000 piece puzzle with Mama, who was at work for a few hours this morning before they sent everyone home.  The kids have done some dramatic play with their penguin and bunny contingent, played outside including making thin driveway snow angels, played Minecraft on the iPod (with credits earned from being outside in the snow), and compile the valentines for their whole class--Sis had Hello Kitty with a notepad for girls and Phineas and Ferb with eraser for boys plus Kit Kats for all, while Bud had Clone Wars with mini glow sticks and also Starbursts for everyone.  No one liked my idea of hand-making cards, alas.  I've participated in these activities, made roasted chickpeas, helped Sis make a nice coffee cake for breakfast, and been reading my current downstairs book, Bill Bryson's At Home, a history of domestic spaces (upstairs, I'm ignoring a parenting book!).

We finished a foraging lunch--leftover Chinese from their outing last night, chicken sandwiches, mujadara plus hummus and chickpea salad for me--and are about to a). watch Fantasia, b). keep working on the puzzle, or c). have Mama play another computer game with the kids.

And it just keeps snowing.

Blizzard: It's Snowing!

The snow has started and will last the next 28 hours or so, with totals still mentioned near 15-25"!!

School Closed

No surprise here.   Even though not a flurry has fallen...but it will.  Let the fun begin!  After a little more sleep....

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Just Keep Snowing!

via Maddy Lane on FB

In the Papers

Some recent good reads . . . .

Poetry and Cancer--here and here
Why the Boy Scouts suck
Bodies, gender, and popular culture--what to tell your children
Startling article on ADHD drug addiction
On King Cakes during cabbage season
Happy Birthday, Pride and Prejudice
Secret archives of the Warsaw Ghetto
Guy Fieri's recommendations of places to eat in CT
Tales of travel and vegetarian dining
A cat's trek home
Eat like a Mennonite, without plastic poisons
Darwin and the Cloud Forest
Jewish Life in a Muslim Empire
Walking around the World
Chinese in NYC essay
Protecting Your Privacy on FB

It's Official

Blizzard warning in effect until Saturday at 1 pm.  Accumulation:  18-24"!!!!!! 

Getting Ready

For those of you not getting the minute-by-minute updates of Storm Nemo (!) here in the Northeast, we are preparing for a storm of blizzard proportions.  Overly dramatic forecasts mention 20" of snow and 60 mph winds and 6' drifts.  But even if we get half of that, it will be an impressive storm.

So, with practice these last few years for Irene, Sandy, and other storms, we're getting ready.  We have all the batteries and flashlights, but if power goes out, illumination isn't our biggest problem--it's the loss of heat. Yes, we have oil tanks but they need the electric heater to warm the water for the radiators.  Knock on wood, we've never lost power in a snowstorm.  If I had to guess, I think we could stay in the house in freezing temperatures 24-48 hours before it became really or even dangerously uncomfortable.  But I'm not sure.  (Suggestions to stay warm without heat include:  stay only in 1-2 rooms which are well insulated at windows and doors with extra towels or blankets; lots of blankets; wear a hat at all times plus extra socks and layers; kids can sleep in little tents/forts to conserve heat; move regularly to get blood going; don't get damp or wet--change immediately if you do)

We have snow shovels, ice melt, and our big self-propelled snow blower that clears almost 2'.  Later today, I'll walk around outside to remove any projectiles that might alight in 60 mph winds.

And I just went to the store for food, both dry goods in case of power outage and several meals options:  vegetable soup, winter vegetable stew, chicken pot pie, Mexican feast (w/cheese quesadillas, tacos, maybe chili), Polish feast (pierogi, bigos, Breton beans), cavatelli or tortellini carbonara, chocolate chip cookies (or something), homemade granola, homemade bread or cornbread, rice pudding, lentil something or other (ooh, mujadara!), plus various chips/pretzels, dry cereal, dried fruits and nuts, cheese and crackers, sandwich makings--the possibilities are pretty endless.

I'm guessing there will be, at the least, an early dismissal from school tomorrow as the snow piles up; they might just cancel.  For the kids, we have valentines to make for school and family, plus all the toys in the house, arts and craft supplies,games and puzzles, etc etc etc.  Besides, such huge amounts of snow are their own entertainment--snowmen, snow angels, snow forts, snowball fights, sledding, snow painting.

And yes, I got two cans of sweetened condensed milk for our traditional snow ice cream.

For my Northeastern friends, what are you doing to prepare?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Waiting for the Bus

With the barest of flurries in the last few days, we found another use for the thin, shiny snow (since it isn't causing any school delays!):


My first hospice patient has died, which is a blessing for him.  As he was to me.  While I hadn't seen him much in his last weeks, and we only visited a few times, I will always remember our sparkling conversation about Brooklyn, Coney Island, and the Catskills a long time ago.  Still, it is a bittersweet milestone and I'm thinking of his widow and family.

Thoughts and Prayers

Sending thoughts and prayers to Mrs. S., whose aunt had a fall and is in the hospital.  We wish her a comfortable and speedy recovery.

Sending Love

Sending love to Lambeth, whose daughter-in-law has gone home from the hospital in the last stages of cancer.  Our thoughts are with Lambeth and his family at this sad and difficult time.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Tables Turned

Last week at my ENT appointment, the doctor, who has met Mama during our last several appointments, said my husband and I would have a great time at Harry Potter world.  I corrected him instantly, "Doctor, it's my wife!  You've met her."  And he apologized for making assumptions . . . and being forgetful.  It happened at my dermatologist check up again today, but I didn't bother to correct him, even though he's met Mama and treated our kids.  It doesn't bother me; if anything, I'm amused, but most of the time, I pay it no mind.

So I wondered what the woman whom I assumed was a lesbian at church on Sunday thought.  I've had several conversations with her in the previous months and, while I knew she had a somebody, she had never said who.  And she looked like a dyke (oh, as I type this it seems so retro)--slim, short hair, multiple piercings, always pants and a plain button down.  And she's a counselor, for heaven's sake--social work and psychology being big with lesbians of a certain age.  But on Sunday, she finally said a name . . . which I didn't hear because of this darned continued sinusitis and ear pressure.  So, I said, "What was her name?"

"Oh, his name is--."

I'd done it.  I'd assumed and gotten it wrong.  I laughed, waved my hand, apologized--should you apologize for thinking someone is gay?  Or straight?    She laughed and smiled, too, and we kept talking for awhile longer.

But my mind was turning.  Did she think I had only talked to her because I thought she was a lesbian?  Had I?  Would things change now that I knew she wasn't?  Why did it matter in casual conversation or friendship?  But doesn't sexual identity matter?   And, how had I gotten that so wrong?  Has that happened to her before?  Is she okay with being thought of as gay?  Is this kind of mistake something to be offended over?   How often am I wrong?  Or right?   Is this how all those straight people feel when they miss-guess about me?  How long do they think about it?  Do they worry I think they are prejudiced or whatever?  What's the best way to smooth over the awkwardness?    And shouldn't us LGBTQ folk come up with a special sign so that we can avoid all this?

It was definitely a teachable moment for me--the first time I think I've ever assumed incorrectly about someone's sexual identity outloud to that person (well, I've thought LGBTQ people were straight, but then that's not as uncommon because of the whole passing/closet thing; actually, my gaydar is pretty weak and I just usually manage not to misspeak or assume.  Can we even talk of gaydar in the 2010s?  It's not the butch/femme 50s.  Is it a post-gaydar world?).  I'm still working out what it means.

But I look forward to seeing her at church again.

A Very Unbirthday

The birthday invitation said, "girls only."  Even though the birthday girl was close friends with Bud.  How to explain then that his sister was invited to the birthday party but not him?  So we offered sushi as compensation, but he was still disappointed.  As apparently the birthday girl told him (I'll add "gloatingly!") he would be.  And when I RSVP'd for Sis, I told her mom as much.  A week later, though, the girl changed her mind and invited Bud.  And they all had a marvelous time at the party.

But this boy-girl thing is becoming more and more of an issue.  We knew that two lesbians raising a son would have it's challenges and we've tried to allay some of the difficulties.  As such, we're particularly sensitive to gender issues  We've always encouraged the kids to choose their own friends not based on gender but on similarity of interests; we've always let them choose their own toys, be it pink tutus (Bud) or Star Wars action figures (Sis).  But their friends are becoming increasingly gender-stratified, as is their world.  Gymnastics classes are separated by gender.  Scouts are girl or boy.  And birthday parties.  And sleepovers.  Bud, like Sis, would like to have a sleepover with his friends.  But his friends are all girls.  And I know that it will never happen.  Out of habit, I understand; boys and girls don't sleepover.  But why?  Surely it's rather innocent at 7 or 8?

It got me thinking.  Where does this enforced gender separation come from?  Do girls and boys themselves want the separation?  Sometimes, I think they absolutely do.  And developmentally and educationally, there are reasons behind gender segregation, I'm sure (as a feminist, I absolutely recognize the importance of female-only spaces, and by extension male.  But don't get me started on our school's new "Father's Club" meant as a counterbalance to the PTA, which is not in essence women only, so why the need for dads to be different?  I think it speaks to the comfort--or dis--of the genders communicating and working together.).   But I'm speaking beyond simple classes and playdates, about the instillation of the belief, through the ways we treat them (as opposed to the words we intone), that boys and girls have little commonality.

But are parents somehow culpable, too?  We tell boys and girls for years that they are different--pink and blue, tutus and action figures, ballet and football.  They must internalize this difference and really believe that they are somehow fundamentally different from the other gender.  Even when we pay lip service to girls can do what boys do--but why would they believe us?    And then, from second grade until junior high, we segregate them in after school activities and playdates, until with hormones raging, they seek each other again, with their heads filled with years of myths, assumptions, stereotypes, but little practical experience, etc of the "Other."  No wonder there is so much teenage agita over relationships and sex.  Or even adult discomfort--men from Mars, women from Venus; men like football, women like lipstick; men are silent, women talk incessantly; men have Fathers' Club and women have the PTA.

Surely we are all mature enough to recognize these essentialisms as inherently false?  How do these stereotypes really serve us?  And doesn't the separation of boys and girls do more harm than good?

It's a bit of a leap, but Nicholas Kristoff notes, in Half the Sky, that in countries where the genders are most segregated, namely Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, etc, there are the least rights for women and most violence, even terrorism, from men.  It makes me look at even our relatively innocuous gender segregation differently.

And my kids will be inviting their friends--not just a gender--to their birthday party.

Power On

UPDATE:  I have learned a bit more about Bud's spelling.  Apparently, I misremembered the word--it was "foowad" not "fuwad."  He wanted to add "woof" to "wad" and forgot that in Scrabble you can't go backwards and forwards like you do in word searches.  So, really, not so very odd.  But it has led to more chuckles over here.  Especially after the kids suggested to Mama during our game yesterday that she should add an "oo" to "lord," for "Oolord."  Who knew Scrabble could be so funny?

Power and internet (which we lost about three hours ago) have just come back up.  In the meantime, we played a rousing game of Scrabble, among other things.   Bud played "sex"--after asking if that was a word!!--and I changed it into sextant.  Sis later played "sin."  No comment.  Lest we become to vain about their academics, Bud tried to play the word "fuwad."  We laughed about that til I cried, especially after we said we could call him "fuwad" and her "Dodo," to combat the proverbial evil eye of course (see bit above about parental academic snobbishness).  But, in his defense, Bud figured out 23 x 3 in his head when he was totaling up the family score.
Then, upon my announcement that Sis sold 334 boxes of cookies, Sis's teacher suggested that I ask her to explain how the 3s had more value than the 4.  "They're hundreds and tens," she answered without missing a beat.
Yeah, no pride at all.

Another Kind of Challenge

This challenge is for the kids!  My friend, Shelley, at Little Chickadees, is doing 28 Days of Kindness for February, drawing on a list from her children's school.  Check it out at her blog.  I'll have to see if we can add this to our month.

A Discovery

The scientists have confirmed it:  the bones under the parking lot in Leicester are indeed those of King Richard III!  I remember when the scientists excavated and were hopeful they'd solved the mystery, and with DNA, as well as corroborating evidence of the curved spine of the skeleton, the age, the protein-rich diet of a wealthy man, the skull wounds from battle, the date of the bones, the Greyfriars priory location confirmed by an historian--it's all mentioned in the NYTimes article.  I'll be equally fascinated to see the re-burial of the bones in Leicester Cathedral next year, as befits an English monarch, albeit a much-maligned and disputed one.

Weekend Off

Ah, well, I didn't quite stick to my challenges over the weekend.  Weekends are such a break in routine for me, not bad, actually quite good, just my 5-day week habits don't usually extend to Saturday and Sunday.  So I didn't meditate and I didn't write any letters.  Though, I did make up for the letter-writing today, putting two cards and a package in the mail.  And, while I did some short lovingkindness mediation this morning, I'll do my full practice later today.  As these challenges are meant to be fun and inspiring, I'm not that worked up about missing a few days, especially as I've picked right up again.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Singing the Family Canon

Two years or so ago, my sister gave me a book about singing with the family, All Together Singing in the Kitchen.  With my Goodreads challenge to read 52 books this year, I finally read it cover to cover, having previously skimmed the relevant bits that interested me.  As I posted before (here and here), the idea of a family canon appealed to me and so, after completing the book, I started to draw together a list of songs I both knew and could fairly reliably remember either the words or the tune, and sometimes both!  Interestingly, most of the songs are ones I've known since childhood--traditional or folks songs my parents sing, or songs from the Broadway musicals they love, plus Girl Scout camp songs and, more recently, spiritual songs from my chorus in Chicago and my UU churches here.  But almost none of the songs are what you would hear on the radio--I just can't sing Wham! or Wilson-Phillips, Lady Gaga or Beyonce on my own easily, even if I can sing along to them on the radio and enjoy doing it.

Reviewing the songs, drawing from hymnals piano music collections and our iPod, was great fun.  We had an 80s dance night (when I realized I couldn't sing those a cappella) and a sea shanty night (when I found I couldn't remember any of the words of any of those.)  Mama even got in on the fun and enjoyed helping me compile the list.

And it all came in handy the night of the windy thunderstorm.  The kids crawled into bed with us and were upset by the noise and lightening, so I started to sing.  If it hadn't been for the canon, singing wouldn't have occurred to me--I hadn't sung to them since they were preschoolers at least.  First some lullabies--"All the Pretty Horses," "Hush Little Baby," "All Through the Night," and our favorite LGBTQ lullaby about all kinds of families, Deidre McCalla's "Mama Loves Me."  And my own favorite medley, with "Cotton Fields," "Summertime," and "I Gotta Love That Man til I Die."  Mama sang with me on "Water is Wide." The singing had a somnolent effect but not completely.  On to Broadway:  "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," "Memory," "Don't Cry for me Argentina," but I found that I wasn't remembering all of those words, so I switched to Girl Scout songs, at least the slow ones, "Barges," "Balloons*," and "Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose."  I remembered several rounds from my Artemis Singers chorus days and Libana CDs--"Now I Walk in Beauty," "Be Like a Bird," "River of Birds," "Ancient Mother," and "Earth, Air, Fire, Water."  By then we realized that the thunder had stopped and I told the kids that I'd sung the storm away; they played along but I understand they told a friend of ours that it hadn't really worked that way.  Still there is power in singing, to soothe us when there are savage winds and savage beasts.


Here's our general list, which is now on our chalkboard wall to remind me what I can sing when the desire arises (and if I need help with words, so many of them are in the songbook Rise Up Singing . . . in no particular order, with and without title quotes):

"Enter, Rejoice, and Come In" 
"Come, Sing a Song With Me" 
"Come, Come Whoever You Are" 
"I Hear Music in the Air"
"Where Do We Come From?  Who Are We? Where Are We Going?"
"Keep On Moving Forward"
"Walk in Beauty"
"What Could One Little Person Do"
"How Could Anyone?"
"Singing for Our Lives"
"I Have Peace Like a River"
"Blue Boat Home"
"All God's Creatures"
"Simple Gifts"/"Lord of the Dance" 
"For the Beauty of the Earth" 
"Morning has Broken" 
"This Little Light of Mine" 
"We are a Gentle, Angry People" 
"We Gather Together" 
"Amazing Grace" 
“Never Turning Back” 
Circle of the Sun 
"The Earth is Our Mother"
"Ancient Mother"
"Earth, Air, Fire, Water"
"A River of Birds"
"Be Like a Bird"
"Now I Walk in Beauty"
When I Breathe In
Peace, Saalam, Shalom
Water is Wide 

"Mama Loves Me"
"Sleep My Child" 
“All the Pretty Little Horses” 
I See the Moon
Hush Little Baby 
De Colores
"Cotton Fields Back Home"
 "Can't Help Loving That Man of Mine"
"How many colors are in the rainbow?"
"You are my Sunshine"
"Baby Beluga"
All I Really Need 

Folk and Traditional
On Top of Spaghetti 
She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain
Garden Song (“Inch by Inch”)
Puff the Magic Dragon 
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt
There's a Hole in the Bucket
Green Grass Grows All Around 
There Was an Old Lady
Farmer in the Dell
Little Boy Blue
Grand Ole Duke of York
Don't Fence Me In
Silliest Song
Jeremiah was a Bullfrog
Silliest Song in the World
You Get a Line, I'll Get a Pole
Scarborough Fair
Buffalo Gals
I Gave My Love a Cherry (Riddle Song)
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme
Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be
Down in the Valley 
I’ve Been Working on the Railroad 
Mares Eat Oats
Froggie Went a Courtin’ 
Camptown Races 
Give My Regards to Broadway 
When the Saints Go Marching In
Frere Jacques
“Take me out to the Ballgame”
“This Land is Your Land”
“Take Me Home, Country Road” 
Candy Man
If All the Raindrops
I had a Rooster 
Shortenin’ Bread 
You Are My Sunshine 
Here Comes the Sun 
Yellow Rose of Texas
"Deep in the Heart of Texas"
"Eyes of Texas"
"Roll Out the Barrel"
 "Darktown Strutter's Ball"
Home on the Range"
"Sidewalks of New York"
"Bicycle Built for Two" 
"Barrel of Money"
"Tell Me Why"
 "Down By the Old Mill Stream"
“New York, New York”
O, Susanna 
Drunken Sailor 
School Days
This Old Man
Hey, Good Looking
How Much is That Doggie in the Window?
Oh, Dear What Can the Matter Be
Johnny Comes Marching Home Again
Yankee Doodle
You’re a Grand Old Flag
This Land is Your Land
Home Sweet Home
In the Good Old Summertime
Don’t sit Under the Apple Tree
Oh My Darling Clementine
My Bonnie
Pop Goes the Weasel

Girl Scout and Campfire Songs
Peanut, Peanut Butter 
Little Bunny Foo Foo
"Rose, Rose, Rose, Rose"
 "Noah's Ark"
Grandfather’s Clock 
"Buffalo Song"
Make New Friends
Brownie Smile Song
Baby Shark
Princess Pat
Sipping Cider through a Straw

Whistle a Happy Tune
Shall We Dance?
I Could’ve Danced All Night
Come to My Garden 
On My Own 
Don't Cry for me Argentina
I'll Cover You
Seasons of Love
Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair
"Let's Go Fly A Kite"
"Oh, What a Beautiful Morning"
"Kansas City,"
Over the Rainbow 
My Favorite Things 
It’s Not Easy
When You Wish Upon a Star
Zip a Dee Doo Dah
You Can Fly
Once Upon a Dream
Spoonful of Sugar
Lavender’s Blue
Rainbow Connection
It’s a Small World

Turn, Turn, Turn 

*After years of checking intermittently, I just found the lyrics to "Balloons," the half-remembered song from my Girl Scout camp days. I had remembered it almost exactly, at least the first verse and chorus.  I'll include the lyrics here for my memory:

The Balloon Song
Green and yellow balloons make me happy,
The red ones they make me feel sad,
But tomorrow the red ones will make me feel silly,
And the next day balloons are just fads

Friends let me cheer you,
Let me sing you a song.
Let me tell you a tale of today.
Let me create a moment.
Let me make the world move on,
Let me live my life,
Just for today.
When you see out your window some rain,
I'll ask you to come out and play.
But you'll stay in your dry house and ask me to come,
But today I like rainy days.